Community Research Initiative Turns 30

Two longtime CRI employees reflect on our early days, accomplishments, and future promise.

What was the world of HIV like when you started at CRI?
Karen McLaughlin, Research Coordinator (right): I had worked in HIV at its beginning. In 1997, I joined CRI to help those affected with the ongoing struggles associated with HIV. People were living longer, but more improvement was necessary, and CRI was up to the challenge.

One of the first drugs in the early days of the epidemic was Interferon, given by injections three times a week. We really got to know those participating in this study. They were so sick. It was such a tough time, and they were so brave. I can tell people how bad it was and how far we’ve come. Even when we got pills that could help, the side effects were so harsh, so we kept striving for even more improvement in treatment.

Gloria Kuris, HDAP Data Manager (left): In the HIV Drug Assistance Program (HDAP), clients were concerned whether they could get into the program. There were waiting lists in other states, but we were always prepared here. If you met the criteria, you were accepted.

When the Comprehensive Health Insurance Initiative (CHII) was launched as a pilot program, we were trying so hard to get just 50 people enrolled. You never would have thought it would be the robust program it is now.

What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen?
GK: Our clients’ needs have changed so much. We used to cover so many acute infection prescriptions; now, so many of our clients are healthy and working. We’ve changed the program to help people in different situations, to better fit the needs of our clients. That’s always been an important part of what we do.

KM: I was in my 20s when this started, an unknown virus was killing people, but they hadn’t determined it was HIV. These human beings were all ages, but so many were young, so sick, dying,
many were shunned. To experience that from the beginning, it just changed my life, it defined me.

For a while, I worked on many early-phase studies. In one, we worked with a local hospital. The participant would get injections, we would stay overnight with them to take labs and vital signs,
monitor and comfort them at different points. That’s what we did back then — you get to know someone when you spend a night side-by-side with them, there is a trust, and a special relationship is set.

One pill, once-a-day treatments were really the most phenomenal change, and we at CRI and the study participants that gave of themselves all had a part in that. Finally getting there was the best. It took a long time to whittle down to one pill of a tolerable treatment per day.

What keeps you at CRI?
GK: Even though my role here has changed a lot over the years, I value the part I play in helping people. There’s meaning behind what I do, even if it’s managing data, it’s all going toward improving lives. The people here are great, too. I have made a lot of friends here over the years.

KM: We at CRI have always worked to find treatments that have fewer side effects, less burden, and are more useful. It’s a passion. It means everything, to be here now and studying treatment given once a month or once every two months, it’s incredible! All those lost and that contributed to get to this point are not forgotten.

The people I have met, the participants and the staff, are just amazing. I look back and say, I had a unique, rewarding life. Not everybody’s is like that. I didn’t do anything big, but I know I did a lot of little, which makes it worthwhile.